Christians United for Israel opposes the resumption of talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry
Like so many in the American Jewish community, I welcome the resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Kudos to Secretary of State John Kerry for getting the parties back to the table.
Sadly, at the same time that the first encouraging news in years about Israel/Palestine is emerging, one influential advocacy group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has come out vocally against the peace talks. Rev. John Hagee, who heads the group, has objected to Kerry’s effort to try to bring about a two-state agreement along parameters that have long been understood to be the only viable framework for peace.
Hagee has long described the conflict in terms of what the writer Reza Aslan calls a “Cosmic War.” It’s basically the Jews and the Christians vs. the Muslims, and it’s black and white. Hagee’s politics result from a very specific theological perspective on the Holy Land. Any kind of peace that could emerge that differs from the requirements of these beliefs is anathema. In objecting to the peace talks, CUFI takes its place alongside hard-line Jewish and Muslim groups that also promote their own Cosmic War politics.
While CUFI does not engage in the violence that we’ve seen from a number of Islamic and Jewish extremist groups, the absolutism of their beliefs threatens current diplomatic efforts that seek peace. CUFI’s significant lobbying efforts make it harder for members of Congress and the President to take risks for peace, and that alone is harm enough.
At their recent national conference, a number of CUFI’s speakers claimed that Israel has been pressured by Obama into these negotiations. One even compared the talks to Neville Chamberlain negotiating with Hitler. This makes no sense, because Netanyahu has been calling on Abbas to join him in talks for several years. It is Abbas who was refusing, until now, to have talks without pre-conditions. Abbas appears to have relented in response to some meaningful Israeli gestures and a lot of persuasion by Kerry, so it’s hard to see how one concludes that Israel’s involvement in talks it said it wanted is the result of U.S. pressure. If there was American pressure, it was probably on the Palestinians at least as much as the Israelis.
What I and many others who care about Israel fear is not American pressure on Israel to talk, but rather that pressure from the Christian and Jewish religious right will thwart the success of the talks and weaken the will of the Obama Administration to continue to give the peace effort serious energy. As many Israelis, including Israel’s lead negotiator to the talks, Tzipi Livni, have stated, Israel’s security will degrade, not improve, if the two-state solution dies.
CUFI also casts many of its objections to the talks in terms of security issues like Iran’s nuclear program or the unwillingness of many Palestinians to accept a Jewish state as a neighbor. As a rabbi who has been to Israel about 20 times, I love Israel and I share these concerns. Israel is in a tricky existential situation and always has been. Israel really does need good friends.
But Cosmic Warriors are problematic friends. For supporters of Israel like me, who believe that Israel’s well-being is linked to the Palestinians’ well-being, it is hard to watch Hagee and other CUFI notables say the things they say. On a personal level, I have had substantive conversations with a number of local people who support CUFI, and I have appreciated their warmth and the sincerity of their intentions. I wish them well and bear them no disrespect.
What I wish is for friends of Israel to support efforts at a realistic peace between Israel and Palestine, and for their support of Israel not to include demonizing the Palestinians or Islam. Netanyahu and Abbas, flawed as they each are, have now publicly committed themselves to try to reach a final status agreement and end the conflict. It will be difficult and we should all be pulling for them to succeed.
The ancient rabbis taught: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace, as it is written, ‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace (Proverbs 3:17).’” Peace – which is not easy to achieve or maintain in the Middle East – is not the opposite of faithfulness. Peace – messy, compromise-ridden peace – is a sacred value worthy of our best efforts.
This article first appeared in The Register Guard of Eugene, Oregon and is reposted with permission from the author.